[No Comment ]Three Points on the Elections | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

Three Points on the Elections


I am getting lots of nudges from readers who want me to handicap races and comment on debates. I’m flattered that people think I’d be any good at that. I’m skeptical. Nevertheless, I’ll allow myself three points:

1. The Obama Phenomenon is Real
It’s easy to be a skeptic and dismiss the notion that a bunch of hog farmers meeting in town libraries across a Great Plains state could have anything meaningful to say to Americans. It’s also a typical human failing to find disproportionate meaning and importance in recent experiences. Okay, all that being said, I am wowed by the performance of Barack Obama, and by his victory speech. In fact that speech was a lot like his stump speech, I had heard it in bits and bytes before and that didn’t stop me from being inspired by it. On this point, E.J. Dionne had it just right in his column today—one of the better columns he’s written recently:

In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy’s. “Do you remember,” Stevenson said, “that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke,’ but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march.’ ” At this hour, Obama is the Democrats’ Demosthenes.

(Of course, E.J. and your humble writer would probably pick Cicero over Demosthenes, which is the reason why neither of us has a hope of being an effective campaigner.)

But we need to go a step beyond this, because Obama is not merely “the Democrats’” Demosthenes. He appeals just as strongly to Independents and to Republicans. In fact, I have to pinch myself when I see George Will singing Obama’s praises, listen to Colin Powell talk about how inspired he is by the Obama effort, and read Andrew Sullivan make the case for his campaign. Sullivan’s piece in The Atlantic is still the definitive treatment of the Obama campaign, and on the Colbert Report last night he gave a very powerful 2-minute pitch for Obama. Watch it here:

I think he hits it just right. Obama states a credible appeal to conservatives because he reminds of the core values of conservatism which the Bush-Rove Republicans abandoned.

Right now the enthusiasm for Obama is glowing white-hot around the country. The laws of physics make clear, of course, that it will cool with the passage of time. But the process is highly compressed this year and by early February the nominee may well be decided. That seems to me to be the big message coming out of Iowa: Obama is a phenomenon, a “hope-monger” just when the nation most needs one. And he may be unstoppable. If Obama continues on this trajectory, it will shatter the mold of American politics, far more thoroughly that any successes the Bush-Rove team achieved. Most Americans desperately want to see that mold shattered.

And the next step: The Rovian machine which has had it slime guns aimed at full power at Hillary Clinton for the last year, will stop, retarget, and start going after Barack Obama in the coming week. Expect to hear a thousand insinuations that Barack Obama is a Muslim coke addict with strange ties to an Indonesian madrassa, and a reairing of Rush Limbaugh’s “Barack the Magic Negro.” These folks are all out of ideas. Sliming is the only thing they know to do.

2. Rejection of Pundits and Political Professionals
Up to Iowa the mainstream media were busily anointing the candidates. It was going to be Hillary Clinton against either Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani. The other candidates didn’t really matter so much. Why? Because Hillary, Mitt and Rudy were the picks of the people at the core of the Democratic and Republican parties, the folks who raised money and ran campaigns—a group which over time is remarkably similar to the political pundits. (Funny, the pundits used to be journalists. A few still are. But the encroachment of political hacks fronting as journalists is amazing.) Of course, candidates have always run against Washington and voters have always voted against Washington. That’s the oldest cliché on the books. But there is a strong sense of rejection of the received wisdom here, and it is strongest on the Republican side, where the Rove machine folks desperately want either Romney or Giuliani and are horrified at the prospect of Huckabee. They got to see that the “Base” that Karl Rove has crafted has the Ozarks projecting up and into the Iowa plain.

3. The Media Really Is Prejudiced Against Certain Candidates
Does anyone seriously believe that the mainstream media is objective in its coverage of these campaigns? I am not the most perfectly detached observer, but I see the media giving fawning coverage of some candidates that I like (Obama and McCain) and hideously unfair coverage of others (Clinton and Ron Paul). The coverage of Hillary Clinton is really appalling. I have no doubt in fact that the core of the media detests Hillary, and that it has no compunction about showing this. It comes through loud and clear. But bad as that is, the most shamelessly abusive coverage is of Ron Paul. The mainstream tends to peripheralize him, suggest that he is a kook. But the idea that the media would cast a Republican who opposes war- and fearmongering as a kook says a lot about the media and little about Ron Paul. He has an enthusiastic following, and has recently outstripped his adversaries in raising money. (Funny, to the punditry that was the secret, all-important category–until Ron Paul came out on top.) And of the whole media, the worst by far is Fox News, which excluded from the Republican debate the man who finished with a strong showing in Iowa and is likely to do the same in New Hampshire. Indeed, recently Fox has been caught editing Associated Press copy to eliminate Ron Paul’s name–like a scene from one of the early chapters in Nineteen-Eighty-four in which even the memory of an enemy is made to disappear. But of course, at this point the gig is up. Fox has been revealed as an adjunct of the Rudy Giuliani campaign, not as a news organization. The most exquisite moments I spent on Tuesday night were watching the Fox menagerie cope with the slap in the face that voters delivered to them. Well done, Iowans!

Interestingly, today’s hottest YouTube consists of a band of angry young Republicans chasing Fox’s Sean Hannity out of a restaurant. The chant is “Fox News Sucks!”

More from